When I was young, my family would vacation at Lake Huron each summer. At night my father would read my sister and I chapters from William Ratigan’s Great Lakes Shipwrecks and Survivals (1960). The thrilling stories captured my imagination as a child and clearly made an impression on me, since I remember them clearly 50 years later. Besides recounting the demise of several doomed vessels, the stories also presented a glimpse into the maritime life of the early twentieth-century Great Lakes.

Decades later, I became an archaeologist working in the Spanish colonial period, which exposed me to the writings of such early Spanish chroniclers as Bartolomé de Las Casas, Garcilaso de la Vega, and of course, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo. Although Oviedo was arguably the most prolific of the sixteenth-century Spanish authors, much of his work is still not available in English (or even modern Spanish). This is especially true...

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